Chairman Nadler Floor Statement in Support of H.R. 961, the Justice for Juveniles Act
Washington, June 22, 2021
Washington, D.C. - Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following statement on the House floor in support of H.R. 961, the Justice for Juveniles Act:
"I rise in strong support of H.R. 961, the 'Justice for Juveniles Act.' This bipartisan bill would eliminate the administrative exhaustion requirement for incarcerated youth before they may file a lawsuit challenging the conditions of their incarceration.
"By passing this bill today, the House would correct a manifest wrong currently present in federal law and would continue bipartisan efforts to support incarcerated youth.
"This bill recognizes the same conclusion that has been embraced by the Supreme Court and experts for decades—that incarcerated young people have different cognitive abilities than adults; are less mature; and have a higher chance of being assaulted while incarcerated.
"In recent years, our nation has finally come to the realization that youth and adults have fundamentally different decision-making abilities. The Supreme Court has repeatedly cited adolescents’ lack of maturity as a reason why they are not as culpable as adults for their actions or able to recognize certain dangers.
"Yet, in current law, there are no allowances for these differences in cognitive abilities when it comes to addressing deficiencies in conditions of confinement.
"Complying with current law, which requires an understanding of detailed grievance procedures and timelines, is nearly impossible for most incarcerated youth.
"Compliance with grievance procedures not only requires an understanding of the grievance process, but on a more basic level, it requires that an incarcerated person be able to read, which sadly, many incarcerated young people cannot do.
"According to one study, among incarcerated youth, 85% are functionally illiterate, and the 'baseline reading levels var[y] from grade 1 to grade 6.' In addition, approximately 70% of incarcerated juveniles have at least one learning disability.
"Youth are, furthermore, less likely than adults to recognize as risks the circumstances they face in a correctional facility. Youth may not recognize the impending, or imminent, danger of some of the risks they face.
"Compounding these challenges, incarcerated youth, as a group, experience extraordinarily high rates of mental illness. Nearly 50% of incarcerated sixteen- to eighteen-year-olds suffer from a mental illness. Juveniles housed with adults are ten times more likely to have psychotic episodes and they have a suicide rate that is 7.7 times higher than those housed in juvenile facilities.
"In recent years, the public has become more aware of the many dangers that lurk in correctional facilities. Hurricanes have flooded facilities; cold snaps have left prisoners freezing to death; and heat waves have killed prisoners when they lack proper ventilation or air conditions. These conditions pose a special danger to youth, who do not have the ability or experience to recognize that they are in immediate danger.
"While natural disasters can pose an extraordinary risk to youth, prison life itself may also pose life-threating dangers. Adolescents incarcerated with adults are also more prone to both physical and mental abuse—youth are 50% more likely to be physically assaulted when they are housed in adult facilities than in juvenile facilities.
"Taken together, most incarcerated youth are simply not able to recognize or to effectively communicate when their prison conditions become dangerous or unconstitutionally deficient. There remains little doubt that the current process needs to be changed.
"This bill proposes a modest reform to the Prison Litigation Reform Act. It simply exempts youth in correctional facilities from having to comply with technical grievance procedures before they can go to court to challenge the unconstitutional conditions of their confinement. While I would like to see us do much more to protect incarcerated youth, this bill is a necessary first step."I thank Ms. Scanlon and Mr. Armstrong for introducing this bipartisan legislation and I urge all Members to support it."